"It is easy to confuse what is with what ought to be, especially when what is has worked out in your favor."
- Tyrion Lannister

"Lannister. Baratheon. Stark. Tyrell. They're all just spokes on a wheel. This one's on top, then that's ones on top and on and on it spins, crushing those on the ground. I'm not going to stop the wheel. I'm going to break the wheel."

- Daenerys Targaryen

"The Lord of Light wants his enemies burned. The Drowned God wants them drowned. Why are all the gods such vicious cunts? Where's the God of Tits and Wine?"

- Tyrion Lannister

"The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends. It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace. They never are."

- Jorah Mormont

"These bad people are what I'm good at. Out talking them. Out thinking them."

- Tyrion Lannister

"What happened? I think fundamentals were trumped by mechanics and, to a lesser extent, by demographics."

- Michael Barone

"If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to."
- Dorothy Parker

Saturday, January 30, 2010


As he says, the views in the Middle East are that the Sunni Saddam Hussein was a check on Shia Iran. But he's right that we shouldn't use one dictatorship to check another. He gave a big speech to that effect in Chicago in 1999.

Blair is the one politician I've changed my mind about. During the 90s, I believed he was a triangulator of the Clinton mold, and he was in a way. After 9/11 he took a lot heat for standing with America, but we are better off for it.

Friday, January 29, 2010

J.D. Salinger passed away.

Dana Stevens on why Catcher in the Rye was never adapted into a movie.

Howard Zinn is dead, too. He was a next-door neighbor to Matt Damon and his family, near Boston.

Damon's Will Hunting was a working class Holden Caulfield-type with a pronounced Southie accent.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Eccentric Cool
Hitchens on Gore Vidal:
More than a decade ago, I sat on a panel in New York to review the life and work of Oscar Wilde. My fellow panelist was that heroic old queen Quentin Crisp, perhaps the only man ever to have made a success of the part of Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest. Inevitably there arose the question: Is there an Oscar Wilde for our own day? The moderator proposed Gore Vidal, and, really, once that name had been mentioned, there didn’t seem to be any obvious rival.
Like Wilde, Gore Vidal combined tough-mindedness with subversive wit (The Importance of Being Earnest is actually a very mordant satire on Victorian England) and had the rare gift of being amusing about serious things as well as serious about amusing ones. Like Wilde, he was able to combine radical political opinions with a lifestyle that was anything but solemn. And also like Wilde, he was almost never "off": his private talk was as entertaining and shocking as his more prepared public appearances. Admirers of both men, and of their polymorphous perversity, could happily debate whether either of them was better at fiction or in the essay form.
I recently read a description of actor Johnny Depp which called his style an eccentric cool. Like Vidal and Wilde, there's a confident independence. Even though Vidal is in Italy and Depp is in France, they are still "involved" and not hermits. Not too long ago I saw Vidal on Henry Rollins's show, which was funny. And Depp has a new Disney blockbuster Alice in Wonderland movie coming out.*

Louis Auchincloss just passed away and I remember Vidal always spoke highly of him. From the Times obituary:
Admirers compared him to other novelists of society and manners like William Dean Howells, but Mr. Auchincloss’s greatest influence was probably Edith Wharton, whose biography he wrote and with whom he felt a direct connection. His grandmother had summered with Wharton in Newport, R.I.; his parents were friends of Wharton’s lawyers. He almost felt he knew Wharton personally, Mr. Auchincloss once said.
Like Wharton, Mr. Auchincloss was interested in class and morality and in the corrosive effects of money on both. "Of all our novelists, Auchincloss is the only one who tells us how our rulers behave in their banks and their boardrooms, their law offices and their clubs," Gore Vidal once wrote. "Not since Dreiser has an American writer had so much to tell us about the role of money in our lives."
And yet five judges of the United States Supreme Court remain oblivious.  Obama's pointed disrespect ("With all due respect to the separation of powers...") last night was amazing. The Times obit also describes the class traitor Auchincloss's partrician/cultural elite personal style (which also could be said of Vidal.):
Mr. Auchincloss had a beaky, patrician nose and spoke with a high-pitched Brahmin accent. He had elegant manners and suits to match, and he wrote in longhand in the living room of an antiques-filled apartment on Park Avenue.
What was most memorable about Vidal's memoirs, to me at least, was the anecdotes about his mother. They are unbelievably funny and she comes off as highly intelligent and unsentimental (i.e. a major bitch) with no trace of self-doubt (like the mother/matriarch on the hilarious sitcom Arrested Development**). For all I know she was a nice, if distant, woman, but Vidal's portrait is unforgettable.
* It's good to see Depp working again with friends Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter. It's also exciting to see they invited Anne Hathaway down the rabbit hole to play the White Queen. Hathaway was unbearably heartbreaking in Jonathan Demme's Rachel Getting Married, a film that struck too close to home for me.
**That show is incredibly funny and absurd. I just started watching it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

State of the Union: Fabulous*

Gays in the military! Great speech by Obama as I expected. Very impressive outing by Obama and his speechwriting staff. Health care reform, jobs, climate change and immigration reform coming this year. Honest differences with the Supreme Court. Great optimism about the coming decade.
* I stole this line from Chicago Disc Jockey Frank E. Lee, in reference to the Leettes(sp?). Obviously things aren't fabulous with 10% unemployment and the Democrats likely to lose elections in November, I just liked the way it sounded. Below, fabulous commercial nixed by the Superbowl people. (via Andrew Sullivan).

Monday, January 25, 2010

Taibbi's writings on the financial industry always seem a bit sloppy to me, if pleasantly hyperbolic. My estimation of him went up after reading his Baffler review of Blagojevich's book where Taibbi displays his knowledge of The Wire:
Fans of the HBO series The Wire who read this book will undoubtedly recognize in Blago’s public appeals for sympathy on the corruption charges--whatever he did, he did because he just loves the people of Illinois so goddamn much-- an almost flawless impersonation of Isiah Whitlock, Jr.s’ immortal character Clay Davis, a corrupt-as-fuck Maryland state senator. Indeed, the chief differences between the two are incidental: Davis quoted Aeschylus; Blago quotes Shakespeare.
The story that federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald tells in his indictment of Blagojevich--copiously borne out by the wiretap transcripts-- is in the grand Chicago tradition of open graft. Blagojevich is trying frantically to sell the Senate seat to Obama’s people, who apparently wanted African-American lawyer Valerie Jarrett, a longtime confidant of the Democratic presidential nominee, to get the spot. "I’ve got this thing, and it’s fucking golden, and uh, uh, I’m just not giving it up for fucking nothing," he says, in one such voluble wiretapped call. Later on, Blago deputy John Harris is heard negotiating with then-aide and now-White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, saying that if Jarrett were to be Blago’s pick, "all we get is appreciation, right?" To which Emanuel says, "Right."

(Video via The Wire fan Yglesias)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

One more reminiscence about 2009: some favorite bits of writing.

From the Onion's Gateways to Geekery: Krautrock:
The gist of krautrock is simple: It was Germany’s answer to the musical upheaval at play all across the planet in the late 1960s and ’70s, when rock did double-duty as revolutionary art-music and strived to be newly psychedelic and free.
Henwood at his new blog where in he wrote in literary fashion:
The IMF, which was off the scene for many years, is, like a vampire salivating at sunset, returning to action. It's already developed a program for Iceland, which is being put through the austerity wringer; apparently being white and Nordic doesn’t earn you an exemption. It's likely to lend some money to some countries that it deems virtuous on easy terms - among them Brazil but not Argentina. More on all this in the coming weeks.
In a piece for Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi employed the vampire metaphor as well:
The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that it's everywhere. The world's most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.
Hitchens on the deceased J.G. Ballard:
Fascinated by the possibility of death in traffic, and rather riveted by the murder of John Kennedy, Ballard produced a themed series titled The Atrocity Exhibition, here partially collected, where collisions and ejaculations and celebrities are brought together in a vigorously stirred mix of Eros and Thanatos. His antic use of this never-failing formula got him briefly disowned by his American publisher and was claimed by Ballard as "pornographic science fiction," but if you can read "The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered As a Downhill Motor Race" or "Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan" in search of sexual gratification, you must be jaded by disorders undreamed-of by this reviewer. Both stories, however, succeed in being deadpan funny.
And Rick Perlstein on the Tea Party phenomenon:
In Pennsylvania last week, a citizen, burly, crew-cut and trembling with rage, went nose to nose with his baffled senator: "One day God's going to stand before you, and he's going to judge you and the rest of your damned cronies up on the Hill. And then you will get your just deserts." He was accusing Arlen Specter of being too kind to President Obama's proposals to make it easier for people to get health insurance.
In Michigan, meanwhile, the indelible image was of the father who wheeled his handicapped adult son up to Rep. John Dingell and bellowed that "under the Obama health-care plan, which you support, this man would be given no care whatsoever." He pressed his case further on Fox News.
In New Hampshire, outside a building where Obama spoke, cameras trained on the pistol strapped to the leg of libertarian William Kostric. He then explained on CNN why the "tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time by the blood of tyrants and patriots."
 Last November Obama attended a Town Hall in Shanghai. From Time:
Instead of being greeted by voters mulling their options, Obama on Monday met with several hundred well-dressed, attentive and relentlessly on-message students, handpicked by Chinese authorities for the occasion. They listened attentively, nodding in agreement at some of his answers and laughing at his jokes. Most of their questions were something less than challenging. "What measures will you take to deepen this close relationship between cities of the United States and China?" asked the first questioner, a young woman whom Obama picked randomly from the crowd. "What's the main reason that you were honored with the Nobel Prize for Peace?" asked another. A third followed up on the Nobel Prize line of inquiry. "What's your university/college education that brings you to get such kind of prizes?"
A bright spot for the new year was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's forceful speech criticizing China over the "Great Firewall." The Chinese Communist Party immediately pushed back:
In an editorial, the English-language edition of a Chinese newspaper, Global Times, said that the demand for an unfettered Internet was a form of "information imperialism," because less developed nations could not compete with Western countries in the arena of information flow.
As Perlstein's examples above show, in the arena of information flow in the US, corporations dominate. The recent US Supreme court decision that campaign cash is free speech will ensure further domination of the corporate world-view.